The extraordinary testimonies to Mary Co-redemptrix previously offered by the likes of St. Bernard, Arnold of Chartres, Pseudo-Albert, John Tauler, and Alphonsus Salmerón became the ordinary and “common opinion of theologians” (1) in the seventeenth century, which can legitimately be referred to as the “Golden Age of Marian Coredemption.”
In the 1600’s alone, references to the Immaculate Mother’s unique and active participation “with Jesus” in the Redemption number well over three hundred. Within these references are numerous explanations and defenses of the titles of Redemptrix and Co-redemptrix, coupled with learned theological defenses of the sound doctrine which the titles convey. (2)
So generous and penetrating is the theological treatment of the Mother Co-redemptrix throughout this Golden Age that its contribution lays the theological foundation for the systematic treatment of the doctrine in later centuries. Under the classic categories of Christian soteriology (theology of salvation) in which Our Lord’s Redemption is considered, that is, merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, and redemptive ransom, the Mother’s Coredemption is fundamentally treated under these categories by the theological minds and hearts of this age. (3) So many in number were they, we can offer only a sampling of the theological laud and love to Mary Co-redemptrix that this era provides. (4)
Of utmost importance to the story of Mary Co-redemptrix is its organic progression through this critical phase of the Church’s theological history, for the doctrine of Coredemption and its “theological foundations” are firmly embedded in Tradition, and will, in future centuries, receive their magisterial sanctions directly from the popes.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi († 1619), Franciscan Doctor of the Church, uses the concept of Mary’s “spiritual priesthood” (in a mode analogous to the priesthood of the laity as discussed at the Second Vatican Council) (5) to illustrate Mary’s participation in the Redemption in the category of sacrifice. Sacrifice soteriologically refers to Christ’s free immolation and offering of himself to the Eternal Father in a truly priestly action for humanity’s sins. Mary in her “spiritual priesthood,” as St. Lawrence explains, shares in the offering of the one redemptive sacrifice at Calvary with Jesus, the “Principal Priest”:
Did not Mary put her life in danger for us, when she stood by the cross of Christ truly sacrificing Him to God in spirit, as full, abundantly full of the spirit of Abraham, and offering Him in true charity for the salvation of the world? . . . The spirit of Mary was a spiritual priest, as the cross was the altar and Christ the sacrifice; although the spirit of Christ was the principal priest, the spirit of Mary was there together with the spirit of Christ; indeed it was one spirit with Him as one soul in two bodies. Hence the spirit of Mary together with the spirit of Christ performed the priestly office at the altar of the cross and offered the sacrifice of the cross for the salvation of the world to the Eternal God…. For of her, as of God to Whom she was most similar in spirit, we can truly say that she so loved the world as to give her only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have life eternal. (6)
Mary is not a “priest” in the formal sense, since she is not ordained, and therefore cannot offer a formal sacrifice. Rather, she possesses a spiritual priesthood true of all the baptized, but in the highest possible degree due to her singular dignity. In view of her fullness of grace and her coredemptive mission with the Redeemer, it is clear that her spiritual sacrifice in subordinate participation “with Jesus” the High Priest, exceeds in spiritual fruitfulness the sacrifice of any ministerial priest, excepting only her own Son. (7)
Another Doctor of the Church and revered counter-reformational cardinal and theologian, St. Robert Bellarmine († 1621), teaches the uniqueness of the Mother’s co-operation in his metaphor of spiritual creation:
Even if Mary was not present at the creation of the material heavens, nevertheless she was present at the creation of the spiritual heavens—the Apostles; and although she was not present at the founding of the material earth, nevertheless she was present at the founding of the spiritual earth—the Church. For she alone co-operated in the mystery of the Incarnation; she alone co-operated in the mystery of the Passion, standing before the cross, and offering her Son for the salvation of the world. (8)
The Jesuit theologian, de Salazar († 1646) puts forward a theological defense of the Immaculate Virgin’s direct, immediate, and formal cooperation in Redemption. (9) De Salazar justifies the titles of Redemptrix, Reparatrix, and Mediatrix among others, and in a later work refers to the Mother as the “Co-redemptrix.” (10)
The theological concept of “ransom” refers to the “payment of a price,” and the price of Redemption is precisely the merits and satisfactions of the Redeemer offered to the Eternal Father for our salvation, freeing us from Satan’s bondage. To what degree, then, does the Mother participate in the ransom of “buying back” the human race together with Christ?
The testimony of this Golden Age gives witness to two ways in which the Immaculate One participates in the ransom obtained by her Son: firstly, that Mary paid the same price (although subordinately) which her Son paid in offering the merits and satisfaction of her Son to the Eternal Father; secondly, that Mary offered her own merits and satisfactions in union with her Son’s for man’s Redemption.
The French author, Fr. Raphael of the Discalced Augustinians († 1639), illustrates the Mother’s subordinate “servant” role in the buying back of humanity as Co-redemptrix:
Her Son shares with her and conveys to her in some way the glory of our ransom, an act which she truly did not perform, nor was able to carry out in order to satisfy the Father by the rigor of justice . . . But we can say that she cooperated in our ransom in that she gave the Redeemer flesh and blood, substance and price of our ransom. She did so just as a servant cooperated in the buying back of a slave if she lent the money to her master for the deliverance. Also, she cooperated because she willingly consented to see Him die and she generously condemned herself to the same torture . . . which rightly gives her the quality of coredemptrix of man although her Son is the principal and formal cause of our salvation. (11)
The Franciscan Mariologist, Angelo Vulpes († 1647), explains the capacity of the Co-redemptrix to pay the “death-debt” of sinners: “Mary died in imitation of her Son in order that she, in her capacity as Co-redemptrix, might with full merit pay the death-debt of others.” (12) In addition, Vulpes points out that it was God’s decree that man would be redeemed by the “united merits” of Jesus and Mary: “God decreed to redeem all men from the servitude of sin . . . through their merits (i.e., the merits of Christ and Mary) . . . He decreed the passibility of the future Christ, and likewise that of His Mother, so that she too might become the Co-redemptrix of the entire human race. (13)
The Merits of Christ and Mary
How do we understand the Catholic concept of supernatural merit, and in what dimension of this can humanity participate? Jesus Christ, through his passion and death, merited “reward” for humanity, namely our justification. (14) But human creatures may also “merit” in the sense that God has placed a supernatural value on certain human acts, and if freely performed by man, God rewards his sons and daughters with an increase of his grace and divine goodness for themselves and for others. (15) How, then, does the Immaculate Mother uniquely share in the merits of Christ for the Redemption of the world?
During this period, the specific nature of Our Lady’s merits is theologically discussed (16) for the first time since its introduction by Eadmer of Canterbury. The Spaniard, P. M. Frangipane († 1638), identifies the object of merit for the Immaculate Co-redemptrix as the same as that merited by Christ, but on the substantially different level of “de congruo” or “fittingness” compared to the “de condigno” level of “justice” merited by the divine Redeemer alone: “… Everything which Christ merited for us de condigno was merited for us de congruo by Mary…. This title, Co-redemptrix requires innocence on her part; for how could she cleanse the world from sin, if she herself were subject to sin?” (17)
The thesis that Mary merited for us de congruo that which Jesus merited for us de condigno became a common teaching of the period and was later given papal approval by St. Pius X. (18) In essence, Mary merited in the order of fittingness that which Jesus merited in the order of justice and equality between himself and the Father. (19)
The same notion of Our Lady’s merit is repeated by numerous authors during the century, for example by the Jesuit, George de Rhodes († 1661):
We must state first of all that Mary can be called Redemptrix of mankind in a certain true and proper sense, although not as primary and proper as Christ…. Mary merited de congruo through her co-passion and prayers everything which Christ merited for us de condigno through His death … She merited, first of all, that we should be liberated from all sin, both original and personal, that is, all graces which precede and cause our justification…. (20)
The Franciscan Roderick de Portillo, O.F.M. (c. 1630), also confirms that Jesus and Mary obtained the same object of merit for humanity, albeit in their respective degrees: “There is no doubt that the Blessed Virgin (at Calvary) merited the same thing which her Son merited.” (21) The contemplative author, Novati († 1648), affirms the unified meritorious offering of Jesus and Mary for human Redemption: “Just as Christ de condignomerited sufficiently for all men the remission of sins, sanctifying grace and all the other goods that follow from it … so it must be said that the Blessed Virgin de congruo merited the same things for all men.” (22) In addition, Novati re-affirms: “I say first that the Virgin, by co-suffering with Christ, did co-operate in human Redemption. I say secondly that she most greatly co-operated in the Redemption of the human race by offering the life and blood of her Son to the Eternal Father for men’s salvation…. The will of Christ and Mary was one, and there was one holocaust.” (23)
The saving action of the Redeemer results in a superabundant compensation for the sins of humanity. This compensation constitutes the theological concept of “satisfaction,” the appeasing of the guilt of humanity’s sin whereby the justice of God is satisfied, which results in the restoration of the saving communion between man and God. In this, too, the Mother shares, and thus the seventeenth century theologians voice their assent to the satisfactory participation of the Co-redemptrix. Numerous authors speak of Mary’s satisfaction in a de congruo degree at Calvary, in a manner similar though distinct from her meritorious participation. (24)
With the prophetic revelations of Venerable Mary of Agreda († 1665) contained in the Mystical City of God, Christian mysticism once again assists the development of the Co-redemptrix story. In this prophetic work, the Spanish mystic calls Our Lady the “Redemptrix” and speaks of her consequential role of distributing the fruits of Redemption in light of her primary role as a participant in the Redemption:
Just as she cooperated with the passion and gave her Son to take part in the human lineage, so the same Lord made her participant of the dignity of Redemptrix, having given her the merits and the fruits of Redemption so that she can distribute them and with one hand communicate all this to those redeemed. (25)
In the later part of the century, a tract against the Co-redemptrix title and doctrine was penned by the German author, Adam Widenfeld, and received significant distribution. (26) But within two years, approximately forty theological defenses were written to counter Widenfeld’s objection to calling Mary the “Co-redemptrix.” (27)
One excellent example is the response of the Prague professor, Maximillian Reichenberger (c. 1677), who vindicates the role and the merits of Mary Co-redemptrix in context of the New Eve model:
We most freely admit that Christ did not need the help of His Mother in redeeming the human race; but we deny that the merits and prayers of His Mother were not joined, per modum meriti de congruo, with the merits de condigno of her Son. It is evident that the Fathers could term the Blessed Virgin Coredemptrix of the human race with much more reason than they could term Eve … the cause of our ruin…. For Eve co-operated in our ruin only remotely and accidentally…. while Mary co-operated in the Redemption of the human race proximately and immediately, not only communicating to Christ the price of our Redemption from her own blood, but also aiding Him and assisting Him, and suffering with Him up to the consummation of the redemptive work on the cross. (28)
The tract of Widenfeld attacking Co-redemptrix was later placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy See. (29)
Unambiguous in its theological praises and defenses of the Immaculate Co-redemptrix, the seventeenth century Golden Age provides dogmatic foundations for future centuries to penetrate more deeply the mystery of the Woman at Calvary with theological precision and with heartfelt piety. The providential combination of theology and devotion, of “head and heart,” dedicated to the coredemptive Mother during this century, is perhaps best represented in a theological meditation by the Doctor of the Church and great apostle of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, (30) St. John Eudes († 1680), who quotes the Fathers and the mystics in his theological laud of the “Co-redemptrix with Christ”:
The salvation of immortal souls is also the great work of the Mother of God. Why did Almighty God choose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God? Why did He preserve her from original sin and make her holy from the very first moment of her life? Why did He shower upon her so many privileges, ornamenting her with grace and virtue? Why did He confer upon her so much wisdom, goodness, meekness and such great power in heaven, hell, and on earth? It was simply that she might be worthy to cooperate with her Divine Son in man’s redemption. All the Fathers of the Church say clearly that she is Co-redemptrix with Christ in the work of our salvation. I hear Our Lord and His Blessed Mother saying to St. Bridget, whose revelations are approved by the Church, that Adam and Eve lost the world by eating an apple, but that they saved it by a heart: quasi uno Corde mundum salvavimus (Revel. Extravag. Cap. 3), that is Our Lord and His Mother had but one heart, one love, one sentiment, one mind and one will with each other. As the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a furnace of love for men, so the heart of His loving Mother was inflamed with charity and zeal for souls. Christ immolated Himself upon the cross for the redemption of mankind and Mary made a similar sacrifice in undergoing untold sufferings and sorrows. (31)
The above article is from the ninth chapter of “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, by Dr. Mark Miravalle, Queenship Publications, 2003.
(1) F. de Guerra, O.F.M., Majestas gratiarum ac virtutum omnium Deiparae Virginis Mariae, vol. 2, Hispali, 1659, lib. 3, disc. 4, fragm. 10, n. 36.
(2) Cf. Carol, J. B. Carol, De Corredemptione Beatae Mariae Virginis, Rome, Vaticana, 1950, pp. 198-480. According to the valuable (though limited) study by Laurentin, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century the term Redemptrix was gradually replaced with that of Co-redemptrix. Before the seventeenth century Redemptrix is used by ten authors and Co-redemptrix by three authors. During the seventeenth century Redemptrix is still preferred fifty-one times to Co-redemptrix’s twenty-seven times. By the eighteenth century, Co-redemptrix is being used more than Redemptrix by a twenty-four to sixteen margin, and by the nineteenth century Redemptrix virtually disappears, with some exceptions. Cf. R. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, Etude Historique, Paris, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1951, p. 19.
Note: Along with these valuable statistics, Laurentin offers some strong conclusions of his own regarding the titles of Redemptrix and Co-redemptrix, which do not appear substantiated by his and other sources. For example, the author states: “But when in the twelfth century, the passage from causa causae (Mary, cause of the Redeemer) developed into the expression of causa causati (cause of Redemption),… the term Redemptrix could not without serious ambiguity translate these realities.” But the concept of Mary’s participation in the Redemption as a sharing in the “causa causati” in reference to Redemption was intrinsic to the most ancient testimonies of the New Eve as the woman who played an active and instrumental role in salvation, and was gradually brought to its natural development in the explicit teachings of Mary’s active role in Redemption at Calvary as articulated by St. Bernard, Arnold of Chartres, St. Albert, and John Tauler.
Moreover, the title Redemptrix was used in the Church in an orthodox and balanced manner for five centuries after the twelfth century, and without any “serious ambiguity,” but precisely the same way “Mediatrix” is used in relation to “Mediator” today— subordinate, dependent, and totally relying upon the primacy of the divine Redeemer. That Co-redemptrix as a title eventually phased out the use of Redemptrix can be seen as a positive development without casting dispersion on the legitimacy of Redemptrix, which was used in the Church for over seven hundred years in a balanced fashion by doctors, theologians, mystics, and saints.
The author goes on to refer to the titles of Redemptrix and Co-redemptrix as “somewhat disturbing” during this time of historical development, and concludes: “we have the impression that co-redemptrix and, even more so, redemptrix, have slowed down the development of the following thesis of Mary’s cooperation in Redemption.” In fact, the historical evidence appears to support the opposite conclusion, that the terms in fact have assisted in the process of the historical development of doctrine. The greater frequency of both terms from the twelfth century to the eighteenth centuries parallels the time of greatest theological development of the doctrine of Mary’s cooperation in Redemption, as is particularly the case in the seventeenth century Golden Age, during which the terms are used in greatest quantity and the theology of the role receives its greatest historical treatment.
In addition, the terms Co-redemptrix and Redemptrix truly capture the full meaning of the doctrine of Mary’s unique participation with the Redeemer in the historic victory over Satan and sin. Rather than some minimized or vague concept of the doctrine, the Co-redemptrix title envelops the full dynamism of the role of being Christ’s unique partner in Redemption, and therefore contributed to an honest discussion of its intrinsic meaning and development. This remains true whether one be “pro” or “con” to the Coredemption doctrine, and hence the Co-redemptrix title has historically served, and continues to serve, as an authentic component of the doctrinal development of Mary’s cooperation in Redemption.
(3) For extended treatments of Coredemption under the same four classic soteriological categories, cf. Gregory Alastruey, The Blessed Virgin Mary, English translation of the original by Sr. M. J. La Giglia, O.P., Herder, 1964, ch. 2; Friethoff, O.P., A Complete Mariology, Blackfriars, 1958, English translation of Dutch original, Part III, ch. I-V; specifically during this seventeenth century period in its four traditional categories; J. B. Carol, “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” Mariology vol. 2, Bruce, 1957, pp. 400-409.
(4) For a fuller explanation of the seventeenth century references to Coredemption, cf. Carol, De Corredemptione, pp. 198-480.
(5) Cf. Lumen Gentium, 10; cf. 1. Pet. 2:9-10.
(6) St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Mariale; Opera Omnia, Patavii, 1928, vol. 1, pp. 183-184.
(7) Cf. Carol, “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” vol. 2, p. 418; M. O’Carroll, C.S.Sp., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael Glazier, 1982, pp. 293-296.
(8) St. Robert Bellarmine, Cod. Vat. Lat. Ottob. 2424, f. 193, cited by C. Dillenschneider, Marie au service de notre Redemption, p. 208. Bellarmine’s contemporary and brother Jesuit, Suarez (f 1617), known as the Father of Modern systematic Mariology, also contributes to the Coredemption discussion in De Incarn., disp. 23.
(9) F. Chirino de Salazar, S.J., In Proverbiis, VIII, 19, n. 222, Cologne ed., ap. J. Kinchium, 1621,1.1, 627; for another use of Redemptrix by Salazar, cf. Pro Immaculata conceptione defensio, Compluti, of J. Graciani, 1618, CXXI, § I, pp. 132 b-133 a.
(10) Cf. de Salazar, In Canticum, Lyon, Prost, 1643, t. 1, p. 128.
(11) Father Raphael, Les sacrifices de la Vierge et de la France, speech given in Aix, February 2, 1639, 2nd ed. Avignon, I. Piot (s.d.), pp. 32-34.
(12) A. Vulpes, Sacrae Theologiae Summa Joannis D. Scoti, Doctoris Subtilissimus, et Commentaria, Neapoli, 1646, vol. 3, pars 4, pp. 498-499.
(13) Ibid., pp. 290-291.
(14) Cf. Council of Trent, D 799.
(15) Cf. Council of Trent (1547):DS 1546; 1548; Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, ch. 3, art. 2, sec. 3, nn. 2006-2011.
(16) Perhaps the first author treating Mary’s de congruo merit is de Salazar; cf. Carol, “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” p. 401, note 94.
(17) P. M. Frangipane, Blasones de la Virgen Madre de Dios y Senora nuestra, Zaragoza, 1635, pp. 65-66.
(18) St. Pius X, Ad Diem Illum; ASS 36, p. 453; The magisterial statement by Pope St. Pius X regarding Mary’s merit de congruo should serve as an authoritative aurea media in veritate (golden mean in truth) in the debates over the nature and degree of Mary’s merit as Co-redemptrix. Without saying the last word on whether or not Mary also merited de digno, de supercongruo, or de condigno ex mera condignitate (just as the dogma of the Assumption did not say the last word concerning the debate over the “Death” of Mary), St. Pius X’s statement should serve as an authoritative confirmation that Mary at least merited de congruo as Christ merited de condigno, and as such should serve as a consensus doctrinal statement regarding the question of Mary’s coredemptive merit.
(19) Cf. Chapter XI for a further discussion of the nature and levels of supernatural merit and its relation to the Blessed Virgin.
(20) G. de Rhodes, S.J., Disputationes Theologicae Scholasticae, Lugduni, 1676, vol. 2, tract. 8: De Deipara Virgine Maria, disp. Unica, quaest. 5, sect. 3, p. 265.
(21) R. de Portillo, O.F.M., Libra de los tratados de Cristo Señor nuestro, y de su santisima Madre, y de los beneficios y Mercedes que goza el mundo par su medio, Tauri, 1630, p. 41.
(22) J. Novati, De Eminentia Deiparae, Bononiae, 1639, vol. 2, p. 236.
(23) Ibid., vol. 1, ch. 18, q. 14, p. 379-380.
(24) Cf. Carol, “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” p. 403; cf. D. Gonzalez Matheo, O.F.M., Mystica Civitas Dei vindicata . . . , Matriti, 1747, p. 124, nn. 368-371; cf. A. Peralta, S.J., Dissertationes Scholasticae de Sacratissima Virgine Maria, Mexici, 1726, p. 264; cf. Th. de Almeyda, La compassion aux douleurs de Marie,ed. Braine-le-Compte, 1902, pp. 161-163; cf. G. Federici, O.S.B., Tractatus polemicus de Matre Dei, vol. 1, Neapoli, 1777, p. 106; cf. G. A. Nasi, Le grandezze di Maria Verging . . . ,Venezia, 1717, p. 197.
(25) Ven. Mary of Agreda, Mystical City of God, ed. Amberes, H. and C. Verdussen, 1696, P. I, L. I, c. 18, n. 274, p. 86b.
(26) A. von Widenfeld, Manila salutaria Beatae Virginis Mariae ..., Ghent, 1673, moniyum 10.
(27) Cf. Carol, De Coredemptione, pp. 302-318.
(28) M. Reichenberger, Mariani cultus vindiciae, sive nonnullae animadversions in libellum cui titulus: Monita Salutaria B . V. Mariae ad cultures suos indiscretos, pro vindicanda contra auctorem anonymum Deiparae Gloria, secundum orthodoxae fidei dogmata, Sanctorum Patrum testimonia, rectae rationis dictamina et theologorum principia, Pragae, 1677, p. 120.
(29) Pope Alexander VIII condemned the phrase: “the praise which is given to Mary qua Maria is vain”; DH 2326; cf. A. M. Calero, La Vergine Maria nel mistero di Cristo e della Chiesa. Saggio di mariologia, Turin, 1995, p. 284.
(30) Cf. Pius XI, Decree of Canonization of Bl. John Eudes, May 31, 1925.
(31) St. John Eudes, The Priest, His Dignity and Obligations, P. J, Kenedy & Sons, 1947, pp. 134-135. This quoted passage was originally published in a work entitled, The Good Confessor in 1666.